Every Student Succeeds Act: Professional Development in Impoverished School Systems

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

You have just earned your professional teacher’s certification and are excited about the positive impact you will have on the students you will teach.

Your college and student teaching experiences have prepared you to foster academic growth and development for all students.

The school year will be beginning soon, and teaching jobs in the affluent school district in your hometown have all been filled.

The closest school district with openings is about 30 miles away. The socioeconomic status in that area is at or near the poverty line, and test scores are at or below average.

Nevertheless, you are eager to face the academic challenges that await you.

You interview and are awarded a position as a professional teacher.

On your first day, your principal shows you to your classroom and begins to discuss the possibility of homeless students being enrolled in your course.

Reality sets in, and you realize that most of your college courses did not prepare you for what you are about to experience. Are you sure you’re ready?

Retaining highly qualified educators in impoverished areas can be quite challenging, and professional development is particularly critical for strengthening the skills of educators in these districts.

However, as federal funding to states fluctuates, academic programs that encourage comprehensive learning tend to receive priority, not teacher professional development.

In response to this problem, ESSA highlights the immediate need to build upon existing networks and establish alliances by seeking support from local leaders and community stakeholders to address professional development challenges. Some may believe that providing more money to these districts and more training for teachers would be beneficial. It is fair to observe, though, that increased funding for professional development alone would not alleviate various underpinning situations such as homelessness, lack of parental involvement, or inadequate support for tutoring programs and extracurricular activities.

That said, as the opening anecdote suggests, homelessness and poverty are synonymous in some areas across the nation, and many teachers could benefit from professional development to learn more about the needs of homeless students. With the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, reauthorized in 2015 through ESSA, increased attention is paid to the role of professional development in strengthening educators’ awareness of the needs of homeless children and youth.

How can administrators ensure that teachers receive effective professional development, even if they are working in less affluent school districts?

At the beginning of each academic year, school administrators may want to outline the expected goals for their teachers and students, identify possible challenging circumstances (e.g., homelessness or academic and behavioral problems) that may occur, and discuss how these issues can be resolved at discovery. Additionally, administrators should provide teachers with continuous in-district and cooperative partnering initiatives outside of their classrooms.

Including educators in the development of such programs could be a sustainable method of retaining highly qualified personnel by constructing professional development programs beneficial to their daily experiences.

Educators new to the cultural and socioeconomic status of their students should be well prepared.

New teachers need to determine whether they are a “good fit” for the students they teach early in the school year and take steps to educate themselves as necessary. If new teachers are not supported by their administration teams and parents, relevant, sustainable professional growth could become stagnant and difficult to maintain.

Continuous professional development is imperative for achieving ESSA’s goal to promote equal educational access and opportunities for K–12 students nationwide.

For additional information on rural, impoverished school systems, visit http://www.corridorofshame.com.

For additional information on student homelessness in public schools, visit http://naehcy.org/essa-training-and-professional-development-resources.

 Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  1. How can ESSA assist poor school districts with professional development opportunities for new educators?
  2. Does your state recognize schools’ immediate teacher professional development needs, and if so, what training is in place to address those concerns expediently?

image_mccoy-wilsonDr. Keisha McCoy-Wilson is an Army School Liaison Officer with the Department of the Army, an Education Policy Fellow, and an adjunct professor at Southern Wesleyan University. Dr. McCoy-Wilson is a member of KDP’s Public Policy Committee.

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